Hello all! I just thought I'd leave a brief note, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, to thank all of you so much for your support with all of the reviews. It's been fantastic. I hope you all can continue to read this story. I update daily, so I hope you all will follow! Secondly (a point actually about the story), I'd like to point out that an extended-universe character appears (more like is mentioned) in this chapter and will show up (briefly, so don't get your hopes up) again in another chapter. I haven't actually read any of the Star Wars novels, so I apologize if the character of Mara Jade isn't at par with the usual characterizations. I just needed an assassin/spy in this story to show the growing mistrust between Vader and Palpatine, and Jade was the one who came first to mind. So don't expect any Luke/Jade mushy gushiness. Okay. Enough said. Thanks again for reading, and please review! I love what you have to say. It only takes a second, and it makes me smile!
Chapter Fourteen: Matched
One week later~
Luke wound confidently through the halls of the Executor, moving around groups of stormtroopers and officers on his way to the practice rooms, where he knew his father and Leia had been training all morning. Although his time on the Imperial ship had been short yet far, he had found that the hallways were easy to map in his head, and so now he rarely paused to remember the way to go.
For Luke, the week had passed very quickly. Luke had generally balanced his time between working with his father to train Leia in the mornings, and doing reading and researching in the evenings. His research for his mother's identity had been largely unsuccessful so far, much to Luke's frustration, but it also drove his determination and resolve. Admiral Piett had been a huge help to him and Leia throughout their research, even going as far as to provide them with the override passwords to the datacomputers, therefore lifting the Empire's censor on many of the Old Republic's history and allowing Luke to search through all of Anakin Skywalker's history.
Luke had to admit, even though his search for his mother had been largely unsuccessful, the knowledge he had uncovered about his father's life and history had been extremely enlightening for him and Leia. Not having the option of asking Vader about his past had not completely left Luke stranded; with all the information in the datacomputers, Luke was able to catch a true glimpse of what life was really like for his father and for Obi-Wan in the Old Republic. Since given that option, Luke had spent much time searching for valuable information, and in turn he had learned much. His father's whole past was shocking to him; firstly, he had been surprised at his father's fame before his turn. It seemed like every other article on the holonet concerned the adventures and misadventures of Skywalker and Kenobi, and almost every one praised the two as if they were superstars, which Luke supposed they had been in the eyes of the Old Republic. He had even found a few holorecordings, which he had watched with fascination, even though they were mostly random film snippets of his father and Obi-Wan. But as Luke continued to dig deeper, he found gaps in his father's life. Firstly, there was little to no information about his father's life during his young years; records only dated from the ninth year of his life, while other peer Jedi had records dating from infancy, slowly making Luke more and more convinced that his father had gone through an unusual childhood, most likely one of slavery. In addition, there were noticeable inconsistencies pertaining to that "last year" of Skywalker's life, saying that he had perished in the Battle of Coruscant, when he had later appeared in the Jedi Purges, defending the younglings. Inconsistencies such as these served to both frustrate and spur Luke on; the more he uncovered, the more he was convinced that they were getting one step closer to the truth.
Luke rounded another hallway, slipping past a rather large group of briskly walking officers. The hallways of the Executor were usually extremely busy, particularly the ones on the way to the practice rooms, but Luke had perfected slipping through the crowds unnoticed, especially after he had been stopped twice in the past week to be taken in for questioning as an unauthorized individual.
Luke was still a little ways away from the practice room door when he felt a nagging sensation running up and down his neck. Although Luke tried to ignore the sensation for a few moments, figuring it was just an officer watching him pass through, eventually, when the feeling did not cease, Luke came to a halt. He knew that someone was watching him, but he did not know who it was.
Luke casually scanned the hallway, the sea of gray and white moving back and forth around him, but did not see anything unusual; in fact, all of the officers and stormtroopers seemed to be rather unconcerned by his presence there.
Shaking his head and telling himself he was imagining the feeling, Luke started to turn back around when suddenly he caught a glimpse of red in the blur of gray and white. The eye contact was brief, but Luke caught a brief look of a woman with flame-red hair and green eyes. As he squinted to get a better look at the far-off woman, however, she was gone in a fleeting instant.
Wondering if he could have possibly imagined that she was following him, Luke frowned and continued his path down to the practice rooms, deciding not to let the random occurrence bother him. Yet somehow he could not shake off the random feeling that she was more dangerous than she let on.
Luke arrived at the practice rooms soon after, and, opening the large doors, slipped in mostly unnoticed. He immediately caught sight of his sister and Vader, as they were almost exactly where he had left them earlier that morning. The two were already starting lightsaber dueling, of which Leia already seemed to be very proficient, partly due to what Luke knew was her previous knowledge of combat skills.
"Good," Vader was praising her when Luke entered the room. Luke watched as Vader swung his red blade to meet Leia's offensive swing. "Concentrate on your opponent," he rumbled. "Release your emotions into the Force. Trust the Force to guide your actions, but be careful to study your opponent's style and skill. Never underestimate an opponent."
Leia set her jaw in determination, whirling her blade once more in an attack towards Vader. The Sith Lord parried it easily, but seemed surprised when Leia continued her strikes. He blocked her saber, then returned his own offensive play, which Leia met and blocked.
"Good, very good," Vader praised, seeming genuinely content with Leia's progress. He swung toward her again, this time more heavily, but Leia dropped down to a roll and quickly moved from the lightsaber's path. When she stood once more, their lightsabers met in a brilliant set of clashes. Although it was quite clear to a bystander like Luke that Vader was testing her abilities rather than extend his own mastery, it was also obvious that Leia was quickly improving and learning as a duelist to adapt to her opponent. As the fight progressed, the clashes grew increasingly rapid and heavy.
In an unexpected twist of Vader's lightsaber, Leia's blade swung out of her hand and clattered to the floor a few meters behind her, and Vader drew his lightsaber up to her neck. After a few moments of holding it there in victory, Vader extinguished his lightsaber and took a step back, allowing Leia to return to her feet. Luke expected the Sith Lord to become annoyed or impatient, but he was surprised to feel satisfaction and pride radiating off of the dark lord's emotions.
"Well learned, young one," Luke heard Vader saying to Leia. His voice rumbled off of the walls of the practice room, dark and low. "The longer you maintain concentration, the more power you will have over your opponent and the more united you will become with the Force. This exercise has showed you that."
Leia nodded, her head keeping low. Luke could tell that she still was not completely comfortable with the Dark Lord, but she also seemed very pleased with her own progress. Luke supposed her comfort would adjust in time; she had already begun to grow accustomed to Vader's mannerisms and emotions, and seemed to be adapting slowly but surely.
As their father finished his sentence and dismissed Leia, his helmet flickered up towards Luke as he noted his company, a body signal that Luke interpreted as a passive acknowledgement of his presence in the room. He did not, however, go to greet Luke, not that Luke was expecting him to. Instead, the dark lord watched as Leia parted from him and went to join Luke.
After receiving her dismissal, Leia headed over to where Luke was standing on the room's outskirts. When she reached him, her cheeks were glowing with exertion and she was slightly breathless, although her expression was mostly serious.
"Luke," she greeted him.
"Leia," he replied, smiling warmly at his sister. "How is training?"
Leia returned his smile, although hers was more forced. "You know Vader."
"He seems pleased with your progress," Luke said, glancing over Leia's shoulder at the retreating dark figure.
Leia did not reply to that, instead turning to watch their father retreating away from them. Her lips hardened somewhat as she watched him.
"We should try dueling sometime," Luke said to Leia after a pause, trying to ease the mood. He smiled at her teasingly. "For fun."
Leia just smiled warmly and shook her head, lightening up.
"What?" Luke teased her. "You don't want to practice with your old brother?"
Leia laughed. "If you can't find yourself a dueling buddy, I'm sure you'll find plenty of girls willing to trail after you and learn your secretive ways," she teased, referring back to one of their long-time jokes in the Alliance. The girls of the Alliance seemed to have a fascination with Luke, especially after Luke had played the hero at Yavin.
Although he found Leia's words very amusing, Luke's smile suddenly after a moment or two, suddenly remembering the woman who had followed him only a few minutes ago. He found it ironic that it had so concerned him at the time, yet only a few moments later she had completely vanished from his mind.
"What is it?" Leia asked him, reading his sudden change in expression.
"Nothing, you just reminded me of something that happened earlier this morning," Luke told her.
Luke shook his head. "It was probably nothing, I just caught someone following me."
Normally Leia would have teased him further, but something about his expression must have led her to keep serious. "Following you?" she echoed.
"As I said, Leia, it was probably nothing. I probably just imagined it."
"Did you see him?"
"Well, yes, it was a she," Luke replied, becoming slightly uncomfortable at Leia's dramatic reaction. "But she-"
"A she?" echoed Leia. "There are no women aboard Star Destroyers."
Luke shook his head. "Perhaps she's with somebody?"
"She wouldn't be following you if she was with somebody," Leia pointed out.
"Leia, she probably wasn't following me, I probably imagined it."
"And I've been learning to follow gut feeling," Leia continued persistently. "A woman aboard, doesn't that sound slightly suspicious?"
Luke shrugged and shook his head dismissively. "I'm sure officers have their secrets."
"But she was following you," insisted Leia.
"Leia…" Luke gave an exasperated sigh.
"Luke," Leia continued, dropping her voice lower. "I'm just suggesting that someone is actually following you, or us. We're in Imperial territory. Chances are that someone wants to know what we're doing."
"You're suggesting that Father hired her to spy on me?"
"Maybe not Father," Leia said. "There are bigger fish in the water."
Luke's eyes widened. "The Emperor?" Leia's expression turned grim. "You think she works for the Emperor?"
"It would be a wise decision to stay away from her," came a deep voice, startling both Leia and Luke, who had not heard Darth Vader approach them from behind. The two looked up, surprised to see their father heading towards them.
"You know her?" Luke asked him; amazed that he knew whom they were talking about.
A few hisses of the respirator preceded Vader's answer. "The Emperor's Hand, Mara Jade, an assassin and a spy."
A low coughing sound came from Vader's respirator, and Luke realized it was a small, humorless laugh. "You will want to keep out of her path," he answered simply. Vader's voice contained hints of annoyance, though whether it was towards him or Jade Luke was not sure.
Still astonished, Luke and Leia watched in silence as the Dark Lord moved past them, towards the exit. With a push of a button and a hiss of the door, Vader was swallowed up from their sight.